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State's Turf Industry Continues To Grow
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Grass, something Mississippi's climate is well-suited for growing, has become a serious cash crop to turf producers taking advantage of booming population centers.
Wayne Wells, turf specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the state has an estimated 6,000 acres in 50 turf farms, figures that are increasing yearly. These farms tend to be near Jackson, Memphis, Hattiesburg and the Gulf Coast. The 1999 estimated value of sod sold in Mississippi was at least $16 million, while the state's turf industry is valued at $2.2 billion, a figure which includes golf courses, lawn care and more.
"Wherever there's new growth, there's the potential for new turf markets," Wells said.
The state's farms range in size from 20 to 400 acres, but average about 100 to 180 acres. Wells recommended a minimum 40- acre size for those seriously getting into the business.
While prices vary with quality, zoysia sells for $2 to $2.50 a square yard, Bermuda for $1 to $1.50 a square yard and St. Augustine and Centipede for $1.50 to $1.75 per square yard.
"I estimate costs of producing turf are up 30 percent since 1988, but prices have stayed fairly constant," Wells said.
Ann Ruscoe, Coahoma County Extension agent, said her county got its first sod farm last year and two more are planned for this year. These sod farms are going in on good cotton soil.
"Farmers are trying to diversify their crops and find some way to have a positive cash flow," Ruscoe said. "Our proximity to a growing area like DeSoto County and Memphis creates a demand for good quality sod, so most of our sod goes there. Prices are good and demand is high if you just can find a market."
Ruscoe said Coahoma County offers ideal sod-growing conditions, with the right soil, good drainage and irrigation in place. The challenge is marketing.
"If you've got someone who can get out and sell the sod, it's a perfect fit," Ruscoe said. "If you can't market that sod, it's worthless until you move it. But the good thing about sod is if the market goes down, you can sit on it. All you have to do is maintain it until prices improve."
Wells said the outlook for the year's sod crop appears good. High growth areas like DeSoto County are putting in thousands of new homes a year, and recreational facilities and golf courses are spreading as well. Each of these require sod as a finishing touch.
"Anybody who has quality grass is going to be able to sell it this year," Wells said. "A summer like last year will slow growth, but those with irrigation won't be hurting very much, although it will be more expensive to produce."